The Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act of 1974 outlines the responsibilities of child protective services agencies. Individual states have Department of Children and Family Services or Child Protective Services agencies that serve to protect children from abuse, neglect or any other instances of harm. These agencies may receive reports of abuse towards children, investigate reports of child abuse and remove children from their homes if it is believed that they are in danger. Child protective services laws also provide authority to investigate child abuse in schools, child care centers and public and private institutions.
Definitions of Child Abuse and Neglect
Child abuse is defined as an act that inflicts physical injuries not incurred by accident. Physical injuries may also be sexual in nature or committed through acts of torture, including excessive corporal punishment. Other instances of abuse include dispensing controlled substances to a child. Child neglect is defined as a child not receiving adequate shelter, food, clothing and medical care. Child abandonment and the refusal to shelter a juvenile who has been released from a detention facility may also be considered child neglect. A parent who relinquishes a child according to the laws set forth in the Abandoned Newborn Infant Protection Act will not be accused of neglect, and, in some cases, parents who do not provide medical care to children because of religious beliefs may not be accused of neglect.
Reporting Child Abuse and Neglect
Medical professionals, including doctors and nurses, are required to report suspicions of child abuse and neglect to Departments of Child and Family Services. Mental health professionals, including counselors, psychologists and psychiatrists, as well as teachers, school board members, truant officers, social workers, juvenile justice or corrections professionals and clergymen are also expected to report possible instances of child abuse and neglect. Information technology professionals are required to report any findings of child pornography, and failure to report these violations may result in fines. Medical professionals who fail to report child abuse and neglect may be referred to the proper licensing agencies. Reports of abuse or neglect to a state Department of Children and Family Services or Child Protective Services are confidential.
Protective Custody and False Reporting
Physicians, law enforcement officers or Department of Child and Family Services employees who believe that a child is being abused or neglected may take temporary protective custody of the child, and they may do so without the consent of the child's parent or guardian. Any of these agents who take temporary protective custody of a child in good faith are not subject to criminal or civil actions. Anyone submitting a false report to Child Protective Services or the Department of Child and Family Services may be subject to criminal misdemeanor or felony charges, jail time or fines.